As Hong Kong remains calm, many questions still remain
An uneasy calm descends on Hong Kong as elections to the District Council seats are carried out with only some interspersed violence against pro-establishment candidates owing to the police's great effort. The elections led to major gains for the opposition parties, and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that she respects the results of the election. While the District Councils deal primarily with local issues like garbage collecting, bus routing and the like, the elections were a referendum on the recent months' conflict and occur with an eye on the more important elections to the Hong Kong legislature next year, in which many of those people elected to the District Council will be taking part.
The real question remains: What will happen next? Will the youth cease their demonstrations? It seems that now they are involved in the political process, they may desist from their terrorist tactics. Since some of them are elected officials, albeit at a local level, they must now take consideration to the wishes of their constituents – or soon fall out of favor. Nevertheless, there may be other elements of "the movement" that disdain political action and will try to continue their disturbances.
But there will no doubt be continuing political agitation by the new councilors and their supporters for realizing their "five demands", some of which would be totally inconsistent with the Basic Law or with the "One Country, Two Systems" formula under which Hong Kong is governed. More serious would be any blatant attempts to revive an "independence" agenda (which many of the opposition are aiming for), which would put Hong Kong in direct conflict with the central government and would probably be totally unacceptable to that portion of the electorate that would like to see Hong Kong prosper.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the matter quite clear in his initial comments on the results of the Hong Kong elections, firmly reiterating that Hong Kong is part of China.
The irony of the situation is that the only time Hong Kongers had any "suffrage" at all was when they returned to the motherland. For around 150 years under British control, the Chinese population of Hong Kong had absolutely no say in Hong Kong's fate. This was all up to the British authorities, which comprised the "upper class" of Hong Kong society, who controlled everything. And it is only when it was clear that Great Britain would have to return Hong Kong to China that then-Hong Kong Commissioner Christopher Patten, decided to "permit" some elections, hoping thereby to create a "poison pill" for China when it took over the reins.
As we move forward, however, in this still unsettled situation, it is incumbent on the HKSAR government that it begins more vigorously to deal with some of the general economic and social problems that also lay at the basis of the people's discontent. And in terms of the people's livelihood, the fact that Hong Kong is part of the People's Republic of China provides the ideal means for Hong Kong to shine, as a financial center in the most productive economy in the world, as well as a region of a nation that is fully committed to eliminating poverty and slums, which in the past have so often accompanied even the most "prosperous" of Western financial centers. And the Hong Kong executive, as well as the central government, has a major task to make that palpable for the people of Hong Kong during the coming year.
The way forward will not be easy, and there is always the danger that outside forces will try to manipulate the situation for their own reasons. A prosperous Hong Kong accompanies a prosperous China and some people are not at all interested in seeing a "prosperous China".
Already the U.S. Congress has determined to "stay involved" in Hong Kong affairs through the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act, which was signed into law by Trump on Wednesday. This requires an ever-watchful eye on possible machinations by the U.S. or the British in fomenting problems for China in Hong Kong.
While the British Empire disappeared, British imperial thinking has not. And unfortunately, too many of their "American cousins" have also adopted that characteristic British swagger, which has always accompanied the British overlord.